I lost my father in September. It was unexpected. I miss him terribly. He encouraged me to write and he read everything I shared. I’m sorry if you come across this and find it upsetting, you may prefer not to read it. I’ve chosen to share it because I can’t seem to carry on writing without explaining this event as it has coloured everything since.
My mum called that Monday night. She called John; she didn’t want to worry me if I was driving. She wouldn’t have told me Pa had gone into hospital but he insisted I would want to know, even though they both agreed it was nothing serious. His GP couldn’t resolve the issue so referred him on. He’d have some tests and we’d know more tomorrow. Nothing to worry about. Ma went back home and waited. Pa messaged our group to say it was “the old army game of ‘hurry up and wait’ “. He waited. We waited.
Tuesday morning and he’d been up, waiting, most of the night for tests and scans. There was talk of a possible operation. Ma said she would let me know. We waited.
Lunchtime and an operation was confirmed. A long one, with a recovery of several months. Ma told me to wait til Wednesday to see how it went. I was fed up of waiting.
I packed my bag and called my boss. John came home and we started that long drive south-west, Cambridge to Cornwall, three hundred and sixty miles. I texted Pa “We love you, we are on our way”. I waited for a reply.
Five hours in, I called the hospital. The procedure was going well. He’d be in recovery soon. I called Ma. She was still waiting.
Six hours in, an hour or so til we’d be in Penzance. Pa was in recovery and had blown Ma a kiss. We breathed. He slept. We arrived. We slept.
Wednesday and the night has not been kind. More surgery needed. They tell us not to go to the hospital yet, to wait. We walk by the sea. We eat cake and drink coffee in the sunshine at the Lido, anything not to be sat at home waiting for news. The morning passes and the surgeon calls. Pa will need yet more surgery but isn’t strong enough so he has been moved to Intensive Care. We can see him if we want, though he will be asleep.
We drive to the hospital in Truro. On Critical Care, the waiting room is a shock of purple vinyl and dog-eared magazines. We wait; me, Ma, John. We are missing someone. The registrar comes in and takes us next door, to another waiting room. This one has teal blue sofas and watercolour prints on the walls. He tells us the news isn’t good, Pa is very ill, with sepsis. They need to monitor him overnight but it is likely he may deteriorate further and his kidneys may fail, in which case they would need to put him on dialysis. The doctor’s tone is less positive than I expected. I feel he must be trying to play down how Pa is doing. He says we can see him. I prepare myself.
The Critical Care ward is an open ward. I had been expecting a private room. Pa is in a bed in the back corner. He is ventilated. He is swollen. His eyes are not properly closed. I was not prepared. We stand with him and ask questions of his nurse. I cling to the positives while I hold his hand. It’s a hand I know like my own, but it’s swollen now. His wedding ring, a gold signet of a lion (for Leo) is cutting in. The nurse says he will take that off, give it to us for safe keeping. We file out, back to the waiting room.
I call my sisters and Nick, who is like my brother. They pack their bags to drive from Southampton.
We go back in and say goodbye to Pa for the night. He doesn’t answer but we hope he hears. I kiss his head and ask the nurse to please look after him.
The next morning, Ma is not in a good way. I call the hospital and they tell me that Pa has deteriorated over night and that his kidneys have failed so they have put him on dialysis They had warned us of that, so I am less shocked than I might be. Nick has arrived overnight to his cottage in St Mawes, and is heading straight to the hospital. My sisters arrive, tired and frazzled after an early start and a long drive. We get Ma ready to leave, and then turn back because she’s ‘got the wrong shoes’. She’s an ostrich today.
At the hospital, not much has changed but the tone of the doctors seems to have dipped. They want to see an improvement in the next 24 hours. So do we. I want him to wake up. We go in and out of the purple vinyl room and the ward, into the family room and back out again. To the cafe and back upstairs. Time drags by. Air sucks in and out of the ward. Pa sleeps.
In the evening, they tell us to go home, that we need to rest. They will call us overnight if there is any need for us to come back quickly. We all file in and kiss him goodnight. We walk out to the fresh air and back to Penzance. The day has come and gone while we’ve been inside.
In the morning, I mostly haven’t slept but there has been no call. I leave the quiet house, in case anyone else has. I walk to the Prom and I sit on the cool granite above the waves while the sun rises over the Lizard. It’s a perfect dawn in West Penwith. A woman walks over after her morning swim to ask if I’m ok, would I like to come to her house for a cup of tea? I realise how cold I am, how cold I must look. I thank her but explain I live nearby, that I couldn’t sleep because my dad is ill. She offers her best wishes. I make for home and everyone is up. No-one has slept very well.
I start to make breakfast for us all. The phone rings. I answer. He is worse. We should come. I turn off the grill.
The drive to the hospital seems endless. Back to the purple vinyl. Back to the teal sofas and the pastel scenes. A delegation of doctors and nurses cluster themselves on one sofa; we huddle on the other. The surgeon, a tiny woman, only about my age, tries to explain what has happened. My mum can’t hear her. She tries to speak up. Her voice is breaking. Our hearts are breaking.
The decision isn’t ours. Keeping him alive is no longer in his best interests. They will turn off his support and we will say goodbye. We all file in and stand around him. I hold his hand. Ma holds his other. My sisters stroke his head. He is not going to wake up and while we stand there he passes from us to another place. They have to tell me that. I thought it would be obvious. I feel somehow cheated. Like he should have warned me. I have been punched in the stomach. My breath has gone and I double over.
His nurse asks us to leave and we file out again, back to the teal sofas. They will take out the tubes and we can go back in to say goodbye. I don’t know how to prepare for this.
Ma goes in first, she wants to go alone. I can’t imagine what she will say.
When it’s my turn, I say everything that comes into my head. Apologies, love, thanks. I hold his hand. I sink beneath the great pressure in my chest. I kiss his head. I say goodbye. I wish I had been here sooner, I wish I hadn’t waited.
Back in the family room, they say it is ours for as long as we want. But what would we do there? We’ve been there for 3 days. It hasn’t helped. We walk out of the room, out of the ward, down the stairs and into the main hospital corridors. It shocks me that we are here, walking among people going about their business, buying chocolates from the gift shop, using the toilet, visiting relatives with balloons. I hold on to my mum, fiercely protective. I scan the corridors in case anyone talks to her. I want to shout that she has just lost her husband, that everyone should move aside. An intensely private time and yet we are surrounded.
We reach the outside again. The concrete of the car parks. The shock of the sunshine. A day to be on the Prom watching the ships out in the Bay. The day he never saw. A day he would have loved.
Pa suffered from cluster headaches. They did not contribute to his death, but they did have a great impact for periods of his life and he found the support available through the Organisation for the Understanding of Cluster Headache to be very valuable, not just to him but to others who suffered more than he did. If you would like to donate, please go to this link Thank you for reading.